The main transport hub for Lake Atitlán is the bustling town of Panajachel. Here, you can take boats out to the villages and Mayan communities dotted around the lake’s shores, or pick up shuttles, taxis, and private transfers out to other places in Guatemala.
About 85 miles (113 km) from Guatemala City along the Panamerica Highway, the easiest way to Panajachel is by road. You can take private transfers direct from the city or airport, jump in a taxi, rent a car, hop on a tourist shuttle or a “chicken” bus—or, if you really want to splash out, you can go by helicopter.
There are also plenty of private and group tours around Guatemala that include a stop in Lake Atitlán and Panajachel. Check them out here.
By Private Transfer
Duration: 3-4 hours
Whether you are just arriving at the airport and want to head straight out to the lake or you have spent a few days exploring the city first, a private transfer with door to door service is definitely the easiest way to get from Guatemala City to Panajachel.
Just bear in mind that traffic in the city and on Highway CA-1 can be pretty terrible and the road through the Sierra Madre Highlands is quite winding and mountainous, so although the journey time can sometimes take as little as 2.5 hours, you’re better off planning for four and setting off early.
By Taxi or Rideshare
Duration: 3-4 hours (traffic dependent)
From Guatemala City, you can also take a taxi or an Uber/Lyft to get out to the lake. With a taxi make sure you agree on a price before you go. They can also be quite small and cramped, so if you are a group of three or more with luggage then you might want to consider a private transfer instead.
Ridesharing apps in Guatemala are great—when they work. Drivers have been known to cancel or request higher fares when you get in the car. They also charge you extra when you’re sat in traffic or make extra stops along the route, so check the conditions before you go or you might end up paying double or triple the estimated price.
By Rental Car
Duration: 3-4+ hours (traffic dependent)
If you feel like braving both Guatemala City’s notoriously bad traffic and winding mountainous roads, then you can rent a car from the city or the airport and drive yourself out to Panajachel. Allow plenty of time for traffic and any scenic stops along the way. We don't recommend renting a car in Guatemala unless you have had experience of driving in Central America and have fully comp insurance.
It can also be tricky to find parking in Panajachel, so make sure you choose a guesthouse with parking or find somewhere with secure parking where you can leave the car while you visit other places on the lake. To drive in Guatemala you will need an international driver’s license.
Duration: <25 minutes
Feeling fancy, or don’t want to brave the road from Guatemala City to Panajachel? You can take a chartered helicopter from the airport straight out to the lake. There are tours that go to different places around the lake, and some swanky hotels have their own private helipads!
You can also fly to other cool places in Guatemala, including the mystical El Mirador, which is usually only visited by those brave enough to tackle a 5-day jungle trek. Check out our eight-day Luxury & Mayan Culture in Guatemala tour to find out more.
Duration: 3-5+ hours (traffic dependent)
Tourist shuttles are an easy and relatively cheap way to get around Guatemala—unless you are a big group, in which case it would make sense to hire your own private transfer. You can choose from a variety of different classes including big, comfortable buses and small budget minivans. Minivans tend to be faster, but a little more cramped, especially when they are fully booked.
When you book the shuttle you will give them details of where you are staying in Guatemala City and they will pick you up there, and drop you off at the ferry dock in Panajachel. You can also pre-book some shuttles online.
By Local Bus
Duration: 4-6+ hours (traffic dependent)
From Guatemala City, you can also take a “chicken bus”—an old American school bus that has been painted and reconditioned to cart around everything and everyone, even chickens. while taking a ride on a local bus can be a fun experience, we’d probably recommend a shorter journey, and leaving your bag at home as pickpocketing is rife.
Expect a hot, cramped, and long ride—and to feel like you’re taking your life into your hands every time the driver takes a blind corner on a steep mountain road at breakneck speed. However, if this still hasn’t put you off, then you can find the buses to Panajachel at the bus station in Guatemala City.